After Switzerland, Austria. Iranian president, Hassan Rohani, is being received today in Vienna, a new stage in his European journey, in what seems to be a quest for new supporters in his diplomatic conflict with the US. Three years ago, his visit in Vienna may have been happier, as he was in the Austrian capital for the signature of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the multilateral agreement regarding nuclear in Iran. Things have change in three years, especially since Donald Trump decided to unilaterally retire from this agreement in a both completely illegal and perfectly expectable move from the new American president. The European Union, for its part, chose what seems to be the path of reason in opposing Trump’s decision. Now, Rohani is in Europe, looking for allies.

His visit occurs in the midst of a particularly intricate situation for Iran: in January, the country was experiencing many popular demonstration, linked to the economic situation of the country, and its dysfunctional civil right regime. Then, the Syrian conflict was closer than ever to an escalation, when the Israeli and Iranian troops exchanged fire in the Golan. Now, it is facing both the unilateral termination of the Vienna agreement and the return of economic sanctions from the US. With hard times ahead, the situation is even shadier if we consider the recent arrest of an Iranian diplomat in Germany, accused of fomenting a terrorist attack in Paris, against a rally of political opponent that Trump’s personal lawyer was supposed to attend. Even if the role of the diplomat is still unclear yet (was he acting on behalf of its state? Were the Iranian state services implicated? Was it a real terrorist project of what we would call a “barbouzerie”?), it is obvious that Teheran would be happier without having to justify itself in front of the European Union and its member states.

An awkward situation, especially because Rohani is in Europe to negotiate some economic guarantees from the European States regarding the JCPOA. The president declared on Monday that “as long as our interests will be respected in the nuclear agreement, and as long as Iran could take profit from its advantages, we will stay in the agreement”, implying that he could also leave it if its interests were not to be met in the future. The future of the nuclear agreement will indeed be decided soon, as many analysts already declared its premature death. Will Rohani’s visit in Europe be oriented toward the preservation of the agreement or the negotiation of a new regime, considering that the JCPOA does not make much sense without the US in it?

The outcomes of Rohani’s diplomatic journey are more than uncertain. For all we know, his decision to leave the agreement could have already been taken, and his visit merely be a show of compliance. It could also be genuine, as the fragile intern situation of the country may require strong allies in the future, especially on the side of European firms, most of them quickly getting out of the country in fear of sanctions. It could, actually, also reinforce the European Union’s role on the international stage, in the eventuality of the continuation of the nuclear agreement. It can, eventually, be an opportunity for the EU to show some unity in front of an (ex-?) US ally that seem to be looking for its end in the short term, considering Trump’s views on the European Union…

Jean-Hugues Migeon

For further information

On Rohani’s visit – lorientlejour website

https://www.lorientlejour.com/article/1123611/accord-nucleaire-visite-capitale-de-rohani-en-europe.html

L’express website

https://www.lexpress.fr/actualites/1/monde/embarras-diplomatique-pour-l-iran-en-pleine-visite-de-rohani-en-europe_2022602.html